Heather has a bachelor's degree in elementary education and a master's degree in special education. She was a public school teacher and administrator for 11 years.
Songs of War
What's your favorite song? Does it tell a story? Is it fun to dance to?
During the American Civil War, songs were an important way for Americans to deal with the war raging around them. As the country divided between the Union (the north) and the Confederacy (the south), people were scared, confused, and angry.
Songs often capture feelings or real life events. Many Civil War songs captured people's patriotism, or their support for their country. And whether it was in support of the Union or the Confederacy, some songs were sung by troops to motivate them to fight and to encourage other people to support the troops.
Other songs told of battles and feelings that surrounded the fighting both on the battlefield and at home. What would it be like to have a cannon fired at you? How would it feel to send your son off to war?
Let's 'listen' up and examine some of the most famous Civil War songs.
Perhaps the most well-known song in the Confederacy was 'Dixie', written by Daniel Decatur Emmett. Although Emmett did not support the Confederacy, his song became known as its unofficial anthem, which meant that Confederates considered the song to be like a theme song for their group of states. Can you think of the theme song for your favorite show?
It was played as a campaign song against Abraham Lincoln and played by General Pickett as he led Confederate soldiers into battle at Gettysburg. 'Dixie' described life in the south, and the chorus went:
'I wish I was in Dixie, Hooray! Hooray!
In Dixie's Land I'll take my stand,
to live and die in Dixie.
Away, away, away down south in Dixie!'
After watching soldiers march in Washington, D.C. and hearing another song, 'John Brown's Body', Julia Ward Howe wanted to write different words to the wartime song. The next morning she wrote a poem to the song's tune. It was published in a magazine and called 'The Battle Hymn of the Republic'.
As the war went on, Howe heard that her hymn, or religious song, was being sung by Confederate prisoners of war. It was also used to inspire troops to march towards victory. The song's lyrics tell about God's judgment at the end of the world:
'Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fatal lightning of his terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.
(Chorus) Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! His truth is marching on'
Have you ever pretended to be someone else? Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore did. He used the name Louis Lambert when he wrote 'When Johnny Comes Marching Home' after his band served with the Union Army and witnessed horrible battles like Antietam and Gettysburg.
The song describes how people plan to respond when a soldier named Johnny comes home from the war. Its message of hope for a life after the war made the song popular in both the Union and the Confederacy.
It begins with:
'When Johnny comes marching home again
We'll give him a hearty welcome then
The men will cheer and the boys will shout
The ladies they will all turn out
And we'll all feel gay
When Johnny comes marching home'
If you've ever sang 'The Ants Go Marching', then you've sung the tune of this song.
Civil War songs captured the events and feelings of the war, including patriotism. One popular song became the unofficial anthem of the Confederacy. A hymn and a song about a homecoming also inspired and motivated both sides of the conflict.
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